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Jude the Obscure (Penguin Popular Classics) Paperback – 28 Apr 1994
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About the Author
Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset in 1840 and became an apprentice architect at the age of sixteen. He spent his twenties in London, where he wrote his first poems. In 1867 Hardy returned to his native Dorset, whose rugged landscape was a great source of inspiration for his writing. Between 1871 and 1897 he wrote fourteen novels, including Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. This final work was received savagely; thereafter Hardy turned away from novels and spent the last thirty year of his life focusing on poetry. He died in 1928.
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I don't want to spoil the plot for new readers but this novel contains one of the bleakest and most desolate scenes of any book I have read. Hardy's vision is always dark and unflinchingly grim but he outdoes himself here.
A great read, but not my favourite Hardy.
I raced through the first 250 pages in a ten hour reading fest. It is of course beautifully written and the story builds well to this stage. Jude gets the girl and all is well, pretty much. However the portents of doom hover over Jude and Sue, and Arabella emerges as the the kind of bitter twisted jealous creature who we might find in Eastenders or some similar soap opera. At this point, just after the emergence of 'Little Father Time' I lost interest. I was quite happy with the rural idyll, the artisan and his bohemian female partner. They were a breath of fresh air. However I had no desire to experience their fall.
Hardy, of course, is, like Dickens et al, taking a swipe at social injustice and that bastion of unenlightenment the institutions of religion and the law. At times this is rather unsophisticated and obvious, almost like a sermon against religion. Fair enough, but it makes dreary reading.
The highlight for me was Sue jumping out of an upstairs window to escape the (not very) amorous advances of her husband.
Jude the Obscure could be strap-lined 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' as the male characters are constantly 'doing the right thing' only to be manipulated and frustrated by the women. This Schopenhauerian view of the world is rather simplistic. Women do have to be more practical, unless like Sue they have no interest in procreation, and this might explain why they place more emphasis on selfishness and are less high-minded than the men in Hardy's novel.
In summary I'd suggest that Jude the Obscure is dated. Hardy writes beautifully and makes many excellent observations about the inequities of human existence, but we know all this and I feel he might have been better making this book uplifting rather than moving it towards such a depressing conclusion.
Mr Davidson has an unfortunate narrative manner. He does the various characters' voices ably enough but as narrator, he adopts a curiously sneering, detached and uninvolved manner which is self-conscious, oppressive and distracting. There are several better recordings available. Hopefully, eventually Naxos will get round to this problematic text. The weakness of the novel is Hardy's sentimental pessimism. In exploring Jude's tangle of unfortunate attachments, not least to the infuriating prick-tease Sue Bridehead, we know he'll do whatever's necessary to concoct a gloomy outcome.
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